Review: Message In A Bottle @ Mayflower Theatre


The energy and talent unfortunately was not enough to mask the lack of a coherent narrative thread 

Billed as an ‘extraordinary dance show’, Message In A Bottle’s story is told through jumps, turns, and flips. But whilst the energy of the performers is electric and impressive, the narrative thread is unclear, making for a production that is hard to follow and understand. At times, the themes of isolation, separation, and family are evidently trying to be conveyed, but the emotional beats are marred by a palpable sense of confusion as to what exactly is happening. 

Directed by Kate Price, the story follows a family who becomes separated after being displaced from their non-descript small village. However, the family dynamic is somewhat unclear, and this uncertainty only deepens as the plot progresses. The message appears to be that of connection, and there are clear attempts at social commentary, however, the lack of coherent context means this falls flat. Unfortunately, the narrative leaves the audience with many unanswered questions, as the story only develops using the lyrics of songs from The Police which play throughout. The widely popular songs seem to be an attempt to connect the audience to the plot, a device I didn’t find to be particularly effective as there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason this band was chosen. 

Via Lynn Theisen

The style is reminiscent of frantic assembly’s physical theatre, it is energetic and very visually engaging, with each performer from ‘ZooNation: The Kate Price Company’ clearly being extremely talented in their movement. They are expressive and at times mesmerising, but they face the main problem of effective storytelling in nonverbal production – a problem they do not overcome. Message In A Bottle stumbles because the narrative thread is dropped so early on – I felt like I was playing catch-up on the plot at every major story beat. 

The production design was at times too simple, and at others, I found it too convoluted. The use of projections felt odd, given the authenticity created by physical theatre. The projections used sometimes felt cartoonish and out of place, which took away from the performers. I would have preferred lighting techniques to have been used throughout, as there were several instances of this being harnessed effectively – namely the ‘Roxanne’ sequence. 

Via Lynn Theisen

The costuming was fairly effective and complimented the movement in a visually engaging way. The use of colour was also key in helping to establish where the characters were in the story. The characters themselves were established somewhat effectively, however, it was unclear if they were friends or siblings. Once again, the lack of context made for a harder time connecting to their respective stories.

So, as the curtains closed, I was left impressed by the sheer talent and energy of the performers, but I had many questions as to what exactly I had just watched. The narrative thread became tangled and lost at too many points for this to be the effective and emotional social commentary it wanted to be.

Message In A Bottle will be playing at Mayflower Theatre until 13h May 2023. Information and tickets can be found here.


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